NOTE: this chapter is a little long and a lot pine-y, but I hope y'all enjoy! Fair warning, the next one might be a little angsty ;) But we're comin' up on the Netherfield ball soon— and you already KNOW thats gonna be VERY fun. (also, Pandejo {in the context I'm using} means Dumbass, lol) So stay tuned, and stay safe!

~ Vinny 🌸

William Darcy was not a man usually prone to anger. He was not a man who yelled for no reason. He was not one who took things lightly when it came to people he loved— he was not one to love easily, either. He also was not one that punched walls, tore up pieces of paper, or cursed in public. He was not one that forgave easily.

The last thing that he wasn't, was a man who left his little sister tied up and gagged on the side of a Southern California road while he went and drove into the ocean.

Well, that last one, he was still considering.

"So like, this girl, Bethany— you know Bethany, she works at the observatory— she was being a MAJOR pain today, and kept being all like, 'you're wearing that? What are you, retarded?' Which is a horribly messed up and ableist thing to say, BTW, but that's besides the point. Anyway, she wasn't doing this to me, but I saw her do it to Katyln, who was all 'you better watch yourself,' which was really cool of her because, like, she's not even out of high school and Bethany's a junior, so we all—"


Darcy's sister stopped speaking (finally) and bit down on her gum, looking at him worriedly. "What?"

Darcy took a deep breath and stretched his fingers. His knuckles were starting to go rigid on the steering wheel.

"Gina," he said (in what he no longer cared if it was) a controlled voice, "Please. I'm sorry to interrupt, but I'M TRYING TO DRIVE. So, maybe, could we continue this fascinating conversation some other time?"

In the passenger seat of the Tesla, Gina hunched down a little. She tucked her gum into her cheek with a hurt expression. "Okay," she said, and turned toward the window.

It was about four blocks before Darcy realized, that probably hadn't been the right thing to say.

He sighed. He gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. "Gina… I'm sorry. Th-that was rude of me. Please, continue."

She shrugged, offering him a wan smile. "Naw, s'okay. I can tell you're.. you've got a lot on your mind. Don't wanna distract you."

But distraction was the only thing he needed right now. Needed more than anything.

"No, it's alright. Please, I want to know what happened to.. uh.. Katie, did you say?"

"Katyln. You know, the high schooler who hangs out at the park sometimes, I've told you about her! She's Lizzy's sister and.."

Gina did not finish the sentence. For two reasons: the first, she was running out of words to say to her twitching, suddenly moody brother. The second reason being that same brother unconsciously slammed on the breaks as soon as her name passed through her lips.

Gina didn't hit her head on the dashboard. But both Darcy siblings did lurch forward in their tightening seat-belts, and both took a second of silence to recover.

"Sorry," he said eventually, tentatively taking his foot off the pedal.

"It's okay," Gina replied shakily, automatically.

She licked her lips, and glanced over at her big brother, who suddenly seemed very interested in the road ahead.

"Um," Gina said, "Are you.. Does… this," she gestured vaguely at all of him, "have to do with.. Lizzy?"

He tried for an unaffected grin. He failed.

Finally, he sighed again, puffing out his cheeks and checking his rear view mirror. "Maybe."

"Did you two... have a fight?"

"Something like that."

"Are you.. okay?"

Darcy didn't answer. He would have liked to force a smile, but his lips twitched instead downwards, creasing his chin with his troubled frown.

He felt Gina's delicate hand on his shoulder. "Do you wanna talk about it, or do you want me to back the fuck off?"

This actually did elicit a chuckle from him, though it was slightly on the weak side. "I'll take door #2, Alex."

"Okay," she smiled at him, "But know if you ever wanna talk, I'm here for you."

He smiled at her; no teeth, just with his eyes. "Thanks, little sis."

"Anytime, big bro." Gina's blue eyes flicked to the even bluer sky ahead of them, riddled with street lamps and scattered across an intermittent sea of faint wisps that might one day call themselves clouds. "Uh, I think we're here."

"What?" Darcy looked up, and realized he was sitting idle in the street in front of the condo. "Oh right!"

He put the car in park and allowed his sister to kiss his cheek before she clambered out of her seat.

Looking back, she waved a little. He waved back. Then he drove off, and wondered why he felt hungry, but also kind of like throwing up. Overall though, he spent the drive back to the Playpen with nary a thought in his head that didn't involve her.

He was mad at her. Or, rather, he wished he could be mad at her. She had been irrationally angry that morning, lashing out at him when he was just trying to help! Granted, he may have overstepped a little, but didn't.. f-friends.. try and give each other advice? Just thinking about it made his blood boil.

Except this was Lizzy.

And no matter how much he wanted to shake some sense into her, part of him just wanted to grovel at her feet— just for the chance to see her again. It was stupid. He wished he could just stop loving her and be done with it. But no matter how hard he tried, she was all he wanted.

So, overall, he spent the drive back torn between emotions.

It was only when he marched into the offices that he was hit with the sudden, crippling bite of loneliness, and all anger melted away. And all he wanted to do was see her again.

This happened when he was opening the door, letting the air conditioning pretend it was strong enough to blow the curls off his forehead, and breath in the clean smell of the indoors. It occurred to him (and it almost made him smile) that he felt like a 50s sitcom character, coming through the door with a skinny tie and a briefcase, shouting 'Honey, I'm home!'

Then he imagined he was not just coming home, but coming home to her.

She didn't even have to be dressed up in a 50s pearl necklace, or wearing normal-fantasy-lingerie— he would like her best if she was wearing whatever clothes she had thrown on— a faded T-shirt or a wrinkled blouse or even just some pajama pants and a hoodie. It didn't matter what she would wear… as long as she was HER, and she would smile at him, and kiss his cheek, and ask him how his day was.

And loosen his tie and tease him about the way he insisted on hanging up his coat. Maybe she would take his hand, kiss him slow, and then dance with him to some out-of-tune 80s pop he would have never listened to without her. And then fall down laughing on the rug, pulling him down with her as she told him how lucky she was that he was hers.

And she would just smile, and he would just hold her, and everything would be alright.

Yeah. That was about when the loneliness set in.

Darcy sighed, and made his way up the stairs. It hurt, trying not to love her. It hurt more than he would admit to anyone.

Upon reaching the top of the stairs, absorbed in his own thoughts, Darcy rounded a corner, then clapped a hand over his eyes with the (embarrassingly high-pitched) cry of "CH- CHARLES!"

"DARCY!" His friend yelped, accompanied by the squeak of Rosa Jane's voice— no less surprised, but a little muffled by the couch cushions.

Darcy turned his back, his hand still over his eyes, as he tried to ignore the sounds of shuffling fabric and zippers behind him. He tried to count to 10, and burn the image of his best friend's 'informal attire' out of his head. Eventually, he heard Charles' voice say, "All clear."

He turned around and eyed the couple warily, as if they might just start up their 'amorous activities' with him still in the room. Charles' shirt was still untucked, and his cinnamon hair was sticking up strangely on one side. Rosa Jane looked perfectly attired, but her face (which always glowed with a healthy brown vigor) was a bright magenta.

Darcy cleared his throat. "Uhm. Hello."

"Hi," Charles smiled awkwardly, "We.. I thought you would be.. back a little later."

He couldn't resist quirking his eyebrow. Just a little bit. "Clearly."

Finally, Rosa Jane spoke up (though she still wouldn't meet his eyes). "I am so sorry," she said, speaking quickly, "I- We should have.."

She trailed off helplessly. Darcy suppressed a sigh (he had been sighing too much lately; he needed to cut back). There was no way to get out of the conversation that wasn't awkward.

"It's fine," he said briskly, "No harm done." He paused, and felt his cheeks heat up a little. "Just maybe.. lock a door, next time… or something."

Both nodded, each exhibiting varying degrees of chagrin and mortification.

"I- I should go," Rosa said. She looked at Charles a little longingly, before her eyes glanced to Darcy, and she pursed her lips. "It was, uh, nice to see you."

Darcy attempted a smile/grimace as she walked purposefully out the door. Charles stuck his hands deep into his pockets and studied the floor. Only when he heard a door slam did Darcy choose to address the room's resident pachyderm.

"So… getting a lot of paperwork done, I see?"

Charles barked a dry laugh. "Not as much as you'd think, actually." He paused, and looked at Darcy questioningly, all embarrassment fled from his features. "Wait, does paperwork mean paperwork, or does paperwork mean sex?"

Darcy grimaced for real this time, and he groaned a hollow-sounding laugh. "So," he said, "I assume you and Ms BennĂ­t are an item now?"

He had been intending to tease his friend, but Charles' heartfelt smile cut away his humor. Something akin to.. blunted jealousy took its place

"I still can't believe it myself," he sighed contentedly, a disgustingly love-struck expression firmly in place, "She's an angel. Swear to God, man. Angel."

Darcy willed himself not to glare. "Yeah, well," he muttered softly. Nothing more to say, so he trudged past the loverboy and into his office.

On the desk, he spied a cup of coffee— a welcome (if unexpected) reprieve. As was his wont, Darcy slid off the unnecessary koozie, tossing it absentmindedly in the trash, and wrapped his hands around the delightfully warm cup. He breathed out slowly, and let the warmth of the liquid suffuse through his fingers.

He raised it to his lips, and took a long, slow drink. Mmmm.

The coffee was.. perfect. It was warm, but not hot— exotic yet somehow achingly familiar. It was creamy and a little nutty, with undertones of a darker blend mixing with the sweetness drizzled over the top. It was the best damn coffee he ever tasted.

Wait. Where had he.. Where had he said that phrase before?

Just then, Charles poked his head into the office.

"Hey, Darcy," he said, "Sorry to disturb, but I just remembered: Lizzy left you a— Oh. You found it!"

Darcy spluttered, pressing a hand to his lips to keep himself from doing a spit-take. "What?" He coughed.

Charles pointed to the coffee in his hands and smiled. "Lizzy brought you a coffee! She said something about you being stressed and.. uh… don't remember what else." Charles flashed him a mildly repentant smile. "Rosa showed up afterward, and I kinda got distracted."

Darcy nodded, but his focus was on the coffee. He stared at it, as if a message would suddenly appear and tell him exactly what she was thinking when she was here. But there wasn't any message. It was just coffee.

And.. Darcy was okay with that, he realized. He was okay, with even the slight warmth of the cup she had touched, and the knowledge that she had been thinking about him.

For a while he just sat there. He didn't really think of much. Charles had long since left his office. He was alone with the paperwork. He was too tired to try and figure out what it all meant; if she liked him as more than a friend, if this was an apology, if she wanted him to reach out to her.

He was happy just to sit there, sipping the coffee the woman he loved had left for him, with the faintest hint of a smile on his face.

She was thinking about him.